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The Truth About The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany 1960

Updated on June 2, 2012
A typical early gig in 1960
A typical early gig in 1960
John in 1961
John in 1961

The unvarnished truth about today's rock legend's is that in 1960, the Hamburg, Germany days were the best and worse of times for them. This IS the perfect movie script. Away from home for the first time, doing what they loved to do hoping to just survive to prove to their parents "rock was a job", they stumbled frequently.

When the band got settled at the Indra, the first club they played in Hamburg, they were totally unknown. Five teens, from 17 to 20 yrs. old, with only a set of songs they knew, no idea of how to interact with the audience or how to keep them hooked. The club, near the end of the main road with other clubs, was small and out of the way frequently filled with the scum of the earth people. It was shit. The Beatles knew it. It was not a dance hall, but a club with stage where performers were expected to perform. The Beatles were only use to playing only in dance halls where the focus was NOT on them- not really. Now all eyes were on them. They were not confident but scared and nervous about the club, being in Germany far from home, on their own-no, REALLY on their own, No help would come from mom and dad in this story. Their parents were too poor to provide it. They had to prove themselves for 15 pounds a week, a considerable sum by their standards.

Their accommodations were filthy-but free. Their room was an ex-store room, next to the restroom. They could smell them when someone took a dump. The walls were concrete and drab, no windows. No heat (in Germany, rather important), no wallpaper. Furniture consisted of two sets of small bunk beds with skimpy, dirty blankets. John called it a fleapit and pigsty. Their room was behind a movie theater, so that kept them awake. Patrons used the only restroom also. The Beatles had timed it so allowing them to beat others in using the restroom to wash up a bit. None took baths or showers the whole time (July-October) while there. Whatever cleaning they did, it was in the bathroom sink.

Playing music for 6-8 hours straight forced them to do things they would never had done. It forced them to become showman, learn a wide variety of songs (which is why their music is that way, they were influenced), extend songs to ungodly lengths by just jamming and improv. Their first show was terrible. Luckily, only a handful of drunks saw it or were too out of it. But, The Beatles were use to this shit-play for nobody or small groups. Scotland, earlier that year, show that. Bruno, their promoter, told them so.

Since John was the leader, the rest looked to him to correct it. Since nobody really knew what was wanted, John and the rest started doing a Gene Vincent song and acted like drama queens-lying on the floor, screaming, banging around, stomping- basically, acting like how The Who peformed-just crazy! This seem to interest more patrons BUT, as Paul said, they actually had to do outrageous stunts to entice passerby's on the street to come into the club, like, "Hey, were English, we are a great rock band". Because the bar was usually empty, even the few that walked in would first look at the drink prices. The Beatles knew this was an issue, Many would look, talk, and walk out. It was at this time, the band would explode into a Chuck Berry rocker to entice them to stay. It did not always work. It was not until Bruno dropped the drink prices did more patrons stay and be subjected to The Beatles loud as hell music.

The Indra affair lasted one month, they then went to the Kaiserkeller, that was a bar with a small dance floor. It was here the Beatles would play six hours and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes played for six hours-rock music for 12 hrs. This is where Ringo first observed his future bandmates. He loved their improvisation and crazy performances. The Hurricanes were a disciplined band complete with suits, dance routine. They were Liverpool's top band. The Beatles made sure every song played last 20 minutes, each with 20 solos. So, each member (3 guitars, 1 bass, 1 drum) had their moment to stumble or shine. The Beatles became like musical sponges, soaking up all musical styles in order to play for six hours. Otherwise, they would have just been stuck in rock music. They even tried to play German songs, not so good. The Germans wanted the harder rock stuff. They liked the raunchy guitar, the screaming, the loud drums.

The longest single song they ever played because, a) they loved the song to death and b) the Germans loved it to, was, What'd I Say? Paul and John would belt it out, stomp, and jam for 90 minutes straight. It was one of those songs that its riff, its beat, one never tires of. Patrons danced to it until they needed another drink and The Beatles were in a "zone", just having the time of their lives. On Saturday, The Beatles played from 4 p.m to 5 a.m. During that time, they started to tailor their songs for certain age groups

The Hamburg days were not days of being original. They were too busy learning a myriad of musical styles to keep playing for so long. Their techniques improved 100%. It truly made them a band that was untouchable, yet even this, did not mean success monetarily. It was out of love.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 5 years ago

      Yea. It would have been interesting. How fitting, on The End of Abbey Road, 1969, The Beatles go back, one last time and jam, every member taking their solo. It was like the Hamburg days: john, Paul, George on guitars, sharing guitar licks. It was a short version. Listen to the Hamburg recording, Red Hot, a stunning rocker by the band for 1961.

    • profile image

      Headfullofsound 5 years ago

      This is such an engrossing post. I really wish the Beatles would have stuck to their roots in a way and done some real jamming on their studio albums!

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 5 years ago

      The key word is stories. They were in a few scrapes but they went after anyone. Usually, their early gigs had rival gangs there which fought and sometimes they got involved in order to protect their equipment. They usually fled.

    • Mercredi profile image

      Mercredi 5 years ago

      I heard stories of how they'd beat up people for fun in their pre-famous days in Germany.